Iran’s Top 16

9. Skiing the Alborz Mountains

Think Iran and you’re unlikely to think skiing, but there are more than 20 ski fields in the country. Most of the action is conveniently concentrated around Tehran. The Dizin and Shemshak resorts are the pick, with steep downhills and plenty of untracked powder to keep skiers of all levels interested. Chalets and ski passes are inexpensive compared with Western countries, and the slopes are more

10. Desert Homestays

The welcome is rarely warmer than in the vast, empty silence of Iran’s two great deserts. Garmeh (Click here) is the oasis village of your dreams, with a crumbling castle, swaying date palms and the sound of spring water. It’s the sort of place you come for one night and stay four. Nearby Farahzad (Click here) and tiny Toudeshk Cho (Click here), between Esfahan and Na’in, also offer memorable desert-style family homestays; think beds on the floor, basic bathrooms and fresh, delicious home-cooked food.

11. Tehran Cafes & Galleries

Bustling Tehran can be intimidating but it does have its appeal. Beyond the museums and palaces are a range of hip cafes (Click here) and contemporary art galleries (Click here) that provide an entree into a side of life you otherwise only hear about. Sit over coffee for a while and you’ll end up in conversation, or wander through the galleries and theatre in and around Park-e Honar Mandan (Artist’s Park).

12. Hiking among the Castles of the Assassins

The fabled Alamut Valley (Click here) offers a tempting invitation to hike, explore and reflect among the fabled Castles of the Assassins. Nestled on widely spread rocky knolls and pinnacles lie the shattered remnants of more than 50 ruined fortresses that were once home to the medieval world’s most feared religious cult. Choose a day hike from Qazvin or more extensive wanderings from Gazor Khan – a full, mule-accompanied trans-Alborz crossing to the Caspian hinterland.

13. Carpet the Art Market

Iran’s bazaars are home to a dizzying array of arts and crafts, from fine miniatures, marquetry, ceramics and glasswork and, of course, the most famous of all Iranian arts, a huge array of Persian carpets and kilims (Click here). Carpet shops are everywhere but the bazaars in Esfahan, Shiraz and Tehran are the most enjoyable and memorable places to bargain for rugs.

14. Just Say ‘Yes’

The key to experiencing the best of what Iran has to offer is to open yourself to it. When you are invited into the home of a near-total stranger, just say ‘yes’. Like us, you’ll find your photographs will be the ultimate answer to those friends at home who exclaimed: ‘Iran! But isn’t it dangerous?’

15. The Poets of Shiraz

Iranians like to say that even in the poorest home you’ll find two books: a Quran and the poetry of Hafez. It’s appropriate for a country whose most celebrated sons are poets, and where almost every person can quote their favorite millennium-old man of words. In Shiraz, the city of nightingales and gardens, the tombs of Hafez and Sa’di (Click here) draw pilgrims from around the country. Join them as they linger over tea, reciting the works of their heroes.

16. Bazaar Shopping

In the age of the superstore, most Iranians continue to rely on these mazes of covered lanes, madrasehs and caravanserais for much of their shopping. Tehran, Esfahan, Shiraz and Kashan all have atmospheric bazaars where you can browse beneath domed ceilings, dodge motorcycles and stop in tiny teahouses for a hot brew and qalyan (water pipe). But perhaps the greatest bazaar is the World Heritage–listed Bazar-e Tabriz (Click here), the world’s largest covered bazaar and once among the most important trading centres on the Silk Road.